(NationalSentinel)Â War Clouds: Two developments over the past several hours raise the specter of armed conflict on the Korean peninsula, and soon, unless some major diplomacy occurs.
The first development: The U.S. has dispatched a so-called “nuke-sniffing” plane to the area. The plane, a WC-135 Constant Phoenix, is bristling with sensitive gear designed to detect even slight traces of a nuclear explosion.
Readers ofÂ The National Sentinel know that Pyongyang isÂ saidÂ toÂ be preparing its sixth nuclear test, one that could be a test too far for the Trump administration, which is also sending naval and air force assets to waters off Korea in the form of at least one aircraft carrier battle group, the USS Carl Vinson.
As reported by South Korea’sÂ Yonghap News Agency:
The U.S. Air Force dispatched a nuclear sniffer aircraft Thursday to the east of the Korean Peninsula amid the possibility of North Korea’s imminent nuclear test, a government source said.
“The WC-135 Constant Phoenix, a special-purpose U.S. plane, made an emergency sortie today over the East Sea,” the source said, requesting anonymity.
It arrived at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, early this month amid indications that the North is preparing for another nuclear test.
Thursday’s flight appears meant to check whether the secretive communist nation has detonated a nuclear bomb.
Now, the second development: As reported byÂ CNN, the Chinese appear to be ratcheting up military preparedness ahead of what they may believe is an imminent U.S. attack against the North’s nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons:
The US is seeing evidence that the Chinese military is preparing for a potential North Korea contingency, a US defense official told CNN Thursday.
Chinese air force land-attack, cruise-missile-capable bombers were put “on high alert” on Wednesday, the official said, adding that the US has also seen an extraordinary number of Chinese military aircraft being brought up to full readiness through intensified maintenance.
The official said that these recent steps by the Chinese are assessed as part of an effort to “reduce the time to react to a North Korea contingency.”
Such a contingency could include the risk of an armed conflict breaking out as tensions on the peninsula have risen in the wake of multiple North Korean missile tests. There has also been ratcheted up rhetoric from the US and Pyongyang, with the latter’s state media warning Thursday that a pre-emptive strike by North Korea would result in the US and South Korea being “completely destroyed in an instant.”
Beijing has long been concerned about potential instability in North Korea should the regime in Pyongyang collapse, fearing both an influx of refugees and the potential of reunification under a South Korean government closely allied to the US.
We reported earlier, based on foreign reporting that included a South Korean source, that China may have been deploying tens of thousands of troops to its border with North Korea, in anticipation that a) an attack was coming; and b) to stem the tide of North Korean refugees into China.
This morning, we noted that Russia appears to be doing the same thing – both prudent measures.
It’s not clear that the Trump administration would alert the Russians to any prior attack against North Korea, but itsÂ highly likely President Donald J. Trump would alert Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom he met a couple of weeks ago at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida (where he proclaimed some progress had been made on the issue of North Korea and U.S.-China trade deals).
Whatever else is happening behind the scenes, both Russia and China now appear to believe that some levelÂ of conflict is in the offing and they are preparing for it.
While some experts have said they didn’t believe China would act to pressure Pyongyang to end its nuclear program, a separate report by theÂ Nikkei Asia Review noted that Beijing was set to cut off oil – at least temporarily – to North Korea:
A nuclear test or the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, and China is certain to respond with additional sanctions, said Zhang Liangui, a professor at the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Party School and noted authority on North Korea.
The option to cut off the North’s crude supply will be put on the table, Zhang said, while stressing that the Chinese government will ultimately decide its course of action.
North Korea relies almost entirely on China for oil. The Asian giant shipped about 500,000 tons of crude to the North each year until 2013, according to the Chinese customs agency. Bilateral ties cooled that year after Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test, and exports officially have remained at zero since 2014. But China is believed to still provide crude to North Korea off the books. A complete freeze would impact the North Korean economy.
Time will tell.